Child abuse, neglect reports decrease during pandemic; unreported incidences likely increase

HopeTree Family Services' mission is to foster hope by empowering families, youth, and adults...
HopeTree Family Services' mission is to foster hope by empowering families, youth, and adults to lead fulfilling lives through God's love.(WDBJ7)
Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 5:55 AM EDT
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - According to the Administration for Children and Families, in the last year alone, 1 in 7 children has experienced child abuse or neglect, but even those numbers might be higher.

The data look at reported cases of abuse or neglect, but because abuse often occurs behind closed doors, it can go unchecked. Plus, the pandemic has had a significant effect in the number of cases reported.

Child Abuse Awareness Month is an opportunity for the community to become engaged and educated in the effects of child abuse and neglect.

“There are so many services involved in a child’s life like schools, medical professionals, counselors, and we all want to be engaged as service providers to help those children,” Peter Cardillo, the associate director of foster care and adoption at HopeTree Family Services, said.

However, stay-at-home orders and widespread shutdowns over the course of the pandemic have shut off many children from getting the help they need.

“You’re not seeing teachers every day,” program director Kristy Ayers said. “You’re not going to the doctor’s like you used to so the mandated reporters that are used to seeing it and used to reporting it aren’t there.”

That has decreased the number of abuse and neglect reports, but not necessarily the rate of abuse. In fact, the pandemic is likely to cause more issues in the home.

“The concern is that the rates might be increased because of high stress in the homes,” she said.

And stress is a common factor in escalating aggressive and abusive response. Plus, the rate of abuse and neglect is five times higher for children in low socio-economic families.

“Hearing those numbers is really sad,” Ayers said.

So folks at HopeTree Family Services in Salem want to spread community awareness about the potential signs of abuse.

“Children are often withdrawn,” Cardillo explained. “They’re embarrassed and become fearful of reporting. They’re not as talkative as they used to be or even if they’re acting out in anger, that’s a red flag we want to be aware of.”

Which is why it’s important for the community to surround those kids in love.

“There’s solutions. There’s resources,” Ayers said. “And there’s help there when its needed.”

HopeTree Family Services provides a lot of those resources to help children, families, and the community fight abuse and neglect. Its mission is to foster hope by empowering families, youth and adults to lead fulfilling lives through God’s love.

The organization in Salem has been around longer than Salem itself.

“We have a ministry here. It’s not just a job,” Cardillo said.

What started as an orphanage in 1890 has grown into a multi-faceted family care provider. Cardillo oversees the foster care and adoption entity of HopeTree.

“We have families who are ready and willing to accept children into their homes while DSS works with families to seek to return children to their homes,” he said.

Sometimes kids have experienced trauma and need more immersive care to help with emotional and behavioral challenges.

“So they come here for some structure and stability,” Ayers said.

She works with clients age 11 to 17 who come to live temporarily on campus.

“We work with the family,” she said. “We work with the kids providing that family therapy and then hopefully they’ll transition back into the home.”

One of the most important aspects of HopeTree is to constantly show kids they are loved and valued.

“We really want all the kids that leave us, regardless of how they came here, to leave with a sense of self worth and that they are important and that there are people who care,” she said. “And that there are adults out there they can reach out to when they need it.”

May 8, they’re hosting a virtual Walk for Hope to raise money for the non-profit. They’re goal is to raise $15,000.

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